Over 2500 years ago Siddhartha’s soon to be father Sudhodhana was a great warlord of India and was actively pursuing and fighting for land to expand his already vast kingdom. His wife Maya had dreamed of a white elephant which made love and penetrated her which at the time was a great symbol, the king learned of the dream and called clairvoyants and mediums from his kingdom to analyse and understand the truth of the dream. They told him that if his son would find the suffering in the world then he would become the greatest teacher the world has ever seen, or if he should never see such suffering then he would become a great conqueror like his father. The king did not want a philosopher for a son so did everything he could to ensure that his soon to be born son would never see the suffering outside his kingdom and become the son he always wanted.
Whilst pregnant Maya traveled to her parents kingdom as following tradition to give birth to her predicted son, however whilst on the road she experienced contractions and prince Siddhartha Gautama was born. Legend has it that when he was born he made 4 steps in every direction and lotus flowers grew where he had walked, pointing at the sky and the ground he said ‘I am the highest thing between heaven and earth’. Just seven days after his birth Maya fell seriously ill and died, before this she had decided that Prajapati, Mayas sister and step mother (the king had married all of her sisters to ensure the throne as Mayas father had no heir to the throne), to raise Siddhartha as if he was her own. His father proclaimed that his son would never see the suffering in the world to his kingdom and that every step would be taken to ensure this, no sick, old, or weak people would ever be allowed to see the prince.
His life was typical of that of a prince, his father had given him 3 temples, one for summer, one for winter, and one for the rainy seasons all with the luxuries and riches a prince would enjoy, with the added security from the king that he would never experience suffering. The king would wear make up to hide his aging body and have all of his servants looking healthy and happy to create a false sense of paradise for his son. As he grew he was given the highest education and at 16 years old was educated in fighting arts and all the current sciences. He was a great swordsman and gifted at martial arts, however the prince would never be allowed to lose a challenge or match so this is open to interpretation. At 16 he married his cousin Yashodara, to keep the royal blood line pure. Many years later at 26 years old his wife had given birth to a baby boy they named Rahula, with his newborn son this lifestyle continued until he was 28 when he started seriously wondering why he couldn’t leave the palace whenever he wanted, unaccompanied and free to explore his kingdom. The king told everyone that the prince must stay within the palace even if it is against his wishes and must be done with force, however he decided to escape the palace one day with one of his private servants and was successful, once outside the palace gates he had four encounters that shaped his future.
At first he saw an old person and was confused at what he was seeing. He asked his private servant, ‘What is this man? Why is he like this?’. Without wanting to go against the princes orders he told him the truth, that all men and women once they get old will look like this and experience the sufferings of old age.
After exploring further into his kingdom he came across a sick person, again he was confused and asked the same questions. The private servant explained that all people are subject to illness and sickness in their lives, he asked ‘Everyone?’ to which the servant replied ‘Yes my lord’.
A third time he saw a passing funeral with a dead man being carried, the prince asked ‘Does everyone die except the king?’ to which the servant explained the sufferings of death and that neither the king or himself would escape such a thing in the future. The prince was shocked, confused and angry that all of this new knowledge had been hidden from him his entire life, whilst thinking on all of this new information he came across a begging monk and asked ‘From what do you live?’. The begging monk replied ‘From what I am given’, but this monk was not sad, he was happy. The prince did not understand how this could be, happiness without the luxuries that he had his whole life and knowing of this suffering. Siddhartha deliberated on this new knowledge, deciding that to have all the riches and material possessions were not important and to have true happiness you did not need anything just like the monk. On realising this he decided to escape the temple in secret with his servant.
The following night the prince escaped the temple with his private servant and one of the princes horses, and it is told that Siddhartha saw an old begging monk after leaving the kingdom and swapped his expensive princely robes for the old monks ragged and dirty cloak. Legends tell of him cutting his long hair and the servant takes it in his hand, he gives his remaining jewelry and accessories and to his servant and tells him to return with the horse to his king and tell the king of the princes journey to search for the answer to this new found suffering. From this point on Siddhartha spent the next 7 years traveling from village to village and visiting different philosophers and teachers learning there ideas and further exploring the possibilities of the mind. He was never content with what the teachers had taught him so he continued to go from teacher to teacher and spent many hours and days meditating in extreme conditions like yogis to experience what they had told him, however he came to the conclusion and heavily criticised the methods saying that it was useless even after trying these methods for years.
He practiced living a poorer and poorer lifestyle, and came across five ascetics. Totally naked and eating only what little they found in the forest, seeds, mud broths, or bird excrement, he decided that he would go to the ultimate extreme sacrificing everything leaving only his life sure that this was what was needed to find the answer he was looking for. After spending a long time with the ascetics he became thin and weak, he grew extremely dirty with his hair growing great lengths. One day he heard a musician on a passing boat talking to his companions say ‘If a string is too tight then it will snap, if it is too loose it will not make a tone, it must be the middle way’. He realised these simple words held a great weight and deep meaning, he stood from his meditative position and went to wash in the river, he took a deep drink from the water and bathed himself. He was so weak that he didn’t have the strength to leave and a young 14 year old girl from the nearby village helped him out and rested him on a tree. After thinking on these words from the musician he realised it didn’t help being so ill and weak, so he began eating food that the village girl brought to him. The ascetics were upset and angry that he had abandoned their way of living and left him as he had broken their trust, from this day forward Siddhartha decided that he would remain under that tree and would not leave until he had found the answer he was looking for.
After some time came the renowned being Mara, who asked Siddhartha ‘Why do you sit under this tree?’. The great control freak wanted that the prince leave his position and do as Mara wished, but the prince refused to listen and stayed in his meditative seat beneath the tree. Mara persisted and told him to abandon his venture and return to his cast at the temple, however still the prince paid no attention. So Mara stop trying to persuade him and resorted to other methods, he sent his five beautiful daughters to tempt the prince with their beautiful looks, voices and attempts of persuasion. However the prince knew he could have any number of women back at his kingdom at his command, but this is not what he wanted so the five daughters could not tempt him from his desire. Mara grew frustrated, he sent forth a great army of demons. Terrifying and vast in numbers they marched up to the prince, with a great force of display terrifying to the normal persons eyes they too failed to intimidate the prince who sat unmoved, and strong. Eventually Mara tired of all these attempts and tried himself one last time to persuade him, he confronted Siddhartha himself and demanded ‘Who are you to sit in MY seat? Who dares take my place beneath this tree? Remove yourself from my seat’, the prince replied ‘My former actions have brought me here from my many former lives’. Mara replied ‘And who bares witness to this?’. The prince touched one of his hands to the earth and the earth spoke ‘I did’. Mara shocked by the sight before him, abandoned his efforts to move the prince, and from this moment Siddhartha realised all the truths of the world and found his answer, thus he became the enlightened one, Buddha.
Buddha was 35 years old when he reached enlightenment, at this time he sat for a while and came to decide that others would be interested in his realisation and would like to achieve the same mind set. He thought of the five ascetics initially as he knew they would want to know and decided he would find them and teach them after spending time with them and understanding how they would use this information. In the times of washing clothes in rivers and streams often clothing would float downstream, and there are stories of Buddha taking clothes from the river and cutting the fabrics, creating himself a robe from the materials he found. Once his clothing was created he left in search of the direction he knew the ascetics went. Whilst on his travels a man stopped him on the road and asked how he looked so peaceful, he asked Buddha if he had a teacher to which he replied ‘I do not’. So the man said you must be an arhart, to which he replied ‘Nothing takes me from my inner middle, so that is why you see me as a winner’. The man then asked if Buddha was a god, and he told him that he is neither human or a god. From this response the man was no longer interested in his words, Buddha continued on his journey totally unaffected by this conversation, from this Buddhists know that it does not matter if someone is not interested and that it is imperative that they should never try to change someones opinion should they not agree.
Buddha over some time traveling the road reached the ascetics, they said immediately to him that they would not listen to him due to his previous actions and abandoning the ascetic way of life. However one of the ascetics spoke out, saying ‘No i wish to listen to him and hear what he has to say’, this man was Ananda and came to be one of the highest monks in direct contact with Buddha over the course of his life. Once Buddha had finished speaking all of the ascetics bowed to him and his teachings and became ordained as his first monks. Buddha taught for 45 years until he was 80 years old, during this time many Hinduist priests trued to have him murdered at least 6 times. He had 6 million followers at the time of his death, this was an incredible amount of followers considering the lack of communications and technology at the time. At the time of his death he told Ananda, ‘Why are you crying Ananda? Have you learned nothing?’. Buddha was poisoned from a meal cooked by a man hired by Hinduist priests, at the time of the meal he told all of his monks with him not to eat and to put all of the food outside buried in a hole. After this moment he dreamed that all of his monks turned their backs on him, after seeing this he knew that he still had much to teach. He taught for another 4 weeks, giving endless teachings both day and night to vast crowds of monks and followers. After this period he had another dream that all the monks faced him and bowed and it was at the moment he knew he had finished teaching everything he possibly could, and soon after he died.
- Post script – my fellow friend at the temple Mikel is running a great blog and making some great posts about the things we do here – In the meantime I am starting to write my book properly with some sections already planned – I will keep you posted on everything as it comes for those interested. If you have any interest in these later posts you will hopefully love the book
Also my pursuit into Buddhism has been beautiful and life changing however it has an end in sight – although i’ve been granted time here it will not last as long as I had hoped to study what I want – please think about checking my go fund me page allowing me to stay here for long! Thanks a lot